UPDATE: ACC Has Big Plans for Highland Mall, Construction Could Begin in 12 Months

UPDATE (June 6, 2013): Construction on the first building in the mixed-use redevelopment of the old Highland Mall could begin as soon as a year from now and be completed in the next two to three years, one developer for the project said at the Austin Community College Board of Trustees meeting on June 3. Overall, the project will be completed in the next 10 to 20 years, Community Impact reported. When completed, the project will include centers for fine and culinary arts as well as a gym and a creative media facility.

(Dec. 4, 2012) When the Highland Mall opened in 1971, it was Austin’s first shopping mall, a shiny beacon of consumerism. Some 40 years later, the mall’s anchor stores are closed and its large parking lot is often empty. Austin Community College is aiming to change all of that, starting with a farmers market.

Planning is underway to reinvent the mall space, said Alexis Patterson Hanes, senior public information coordinator for ACC. “It is expected to meet the following goals: Grow innovative instructional programs and program clustering; Reduce crowding at existing campuses; and Expand collaborations with public and private partners.”

ACC completed its acquisition of the Highland Mall, located on Airport Boulevard just west of IH-35 and just north of US-290, in August 2011, purchasing the mall’s ground lease, which extends to 2070, from Miami-based LNR Property LLC for about $1.5 million. Plans for the mall include educational space, retail and housing.

In the spring, Flintco, LLC will begin work on the Math Emporium, designed by Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects. The project will turn the former J.C. Penney store (closed since 2011) at the mall’s northeast corner into a 20,000-foot educational space that will include an open math lab, as well as classrooms, science labs, a bookstore, library, student lounge and support services, Patterson Hanes said. The space will allow for the relocation of more than 6,000 students from other ACC locations.

Neighbors won’t have to wait until fall 2014, when the lab is expected to open, to see changes at the mall though. In November, Barton Creek Farmers Market began holding a farmers market on Sundays, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., in the mall parking lot.

“Although our first love is sustainable and organic agriculture, we also support small environmentally ethical businesses and good nutrition, and our markets are testimony to our beliefs,” said Salila Travers, director of the Barton Creek Farmers Markets. “The fact that ACC purchased Highland Mall creates a bright future for the area and the management was eager to have us at Highland Mall.”

For the time being, ACC plans to keep the Highland Mall open, “providing an additional revenue stream for the college and benefiting the community and retailers,” Patterson Hanes said, adding that ACC has no timeline past the first renovation project on the former J.C. Penney. There are still 65 retailers open in the Highland Mall, and its management company, Jones Lang LaSalle, continues to reach out to potential tenants for short-term leases with an emphasis on local retailers. Most tenants are on month-to-month leases, although a few have multi-year leases. 

Beginning between spring 2014 and fall 2015 though, ACC-appointed RedLeaf Properties will oversee non-college, mixed-use developments of walkable shops, restaurants, structured parking and apartments in areas currently used as mall surface parking lots. Most plans involve renovating the existing structure and additional construction, but some of the J.C. Penney renovation will involve a small amount of demolition, Patterson Hanes said. 

ACC, Highland Mall management, and RedLeaf Properties are working together to keep the community informed about developments at the mall, Patterson Hanes said, encouraging community members to stay up to date by visiting austincc.edu/highland.


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